On Writing Long: Edith Wharton

Time change - tastes change - *I've* changed!Back in May — the 26th, to be exact — Steve King’s invaluable and always entertaining Today in Literature newsletter informed us that on that day in 1891, Edith Wharton’s first story was accepted for publication, by Scribner’s Magazine. The story was called “Mrs. Manstey’s View.”

(Yes, by the way: that’s accepted for publication — not actually published. I can’t imagine how Mr. King manages to keep all these dates organized or, for that matter, how he learns of them in the first place.)

I confess, with some embarrassment, that I have never read any of Edith Wharton’s books. (Now that I’ve written that, I guess I should commit to filling that gap in my education.) Yet I do have a few connections with her.

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These Eyes…

Just got back from Chris & Jess’s wedding weekend…

The Missus and I stayed at a lovely hotel in DC, the Sofitel on Lafayette Square. The bathroom was especially well appointed, and among its attractions was the mirror over the sink — which, as I understand it [cough], had obviously been designed by someone who sometimes needed to apply makeup. What made it suitable for this activity was the lighting: the mirror was a large square, and every single edge was brightly lit.

At first, though, it sort of disturbed me to use the mirror but I couldn’t quite figure out why. I just wanted to conduct my business (none of it, I hasten to add, involving makeup) and get the hell away from it. It just sort of… sort of… creeped me out.

Then I realized the problem.

To wit: see anything unusual here?

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We Interrupt This Program

I’ll be offline for a few days.

You’ll be all right here by yourselves, right? Please help yourself to the pretzels and diet Cokes. Don’t forget to mop up any spills. You know I’ll know you were here.

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While on the Subject of Bad Memory…

'Burning Memories' c2006 by Gerla Brakkee (sxc.hu)…as I was earlier:

In this case, however, the subject isn’t “bad memory” in the sense of “Huh? Did I just say something?” It’s more along the lines of, “Holy sh!t. Did I actually live through that?!?”

Via the MAD about Words blog (discovered, in turn, via DCWYTBMA), we have word of a definitive list — from Entertainment Weekly, of all unlikely sources — of an enormous range of recent memoirs and autobiographies:

The genre shows no signs of slowing down, though it’s difficult to imagine a narrative that’s left unexplored. ”The bar keeps going higher,” says Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly. ”Well, you were a drug addict, but did you kill anybody? Well, you killed somebody, but did you do it with your bare hands? Well, you were hungry, but were you as hungry as Frank McCourt?…”

What follows is a selective list — believe it or not, we actually left some stuff out — of memoirs that have been written since 1995. (Sorry, Ms. Walters, one of the things we’ve omitted is celebrity autobiographies.) So take a look and see if your life, or something resembling it, has already been spoken for.

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Like a Candle in the Wind

God, do I love moments of unintended poetry.

God, do I hate the ravages of age which, within minutes, can scatter those moments to the far edges of memory. Then you have to mount a whole frigging safari to recover them…

The Missus and I were on the way home from work yesterday. (We don’t work at the same place, but we do carpool. Which gives us a chance to talk, to share moments of drama and outrage from the past eight hours, to be present when the other bursts into song or, yes, poetry.)

Her boss and his wife are doing us a favor which, if they can manage it, will be done ideally sometime the next 24 hours. I hadn’t heard if it was still “on,” though, so I asked TM if she knew what the status was Actually, she said, actually, no I haven’t. She had me punch her office’s phone number into her cell phone (she was driving) so she could briefly remind her boss about it. It took 10 seconds, if that.

But the end of the conversation cracked me up. Her half of it went something like, “Uh-huh… Okay. Thanks. Just remind me in the morning, in case I forget to ask.” And then she hung up.

She saw me laughing. “What?”

“Oh, you know. Suddenly I just thought of a saying.” Which was:

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Good Will, Slumming

[Entry from William Shakespeare’s recently discovered blog, “Honour’d in the Breach”]

Well now I’m not so sure workshopping Shrew was such a great idea.

Like I said the other day, I was really looking forward to the new group. I’d been working with the others for like SO LONG that we were all starting to get on each other’s last nerve, you know? (“Do be or don’t be”? Puh-LEEZE.)

So I’m sitting in the tavern at that table in the back. And every time the door swings open I’m like totally checking out the newcomer, wondering if it would be Bacon, deVere, or Greville (so-called Lord Brooke). Marlowe I knew from the old group of course and wasn’t crazy about bringing him along to this one. (Drunken sod, if I had to lay a shilling I’d say he’ll die in a tavern.) But he was already there. Not with me, of course, at the bar. Chatting up the strumpet of the day, and a right loony Ophelia she was too.

Bacon strode in first. ‘Struth,I knew him by reputation right enough. He had every bit the swagger I expected, and lacked every bit of wordsense you need in a good workshopper. By evening’s end he had us all pretty pissed, except for Marlowe who’s always pissed anyway. On the other hand the boastful cock did come up with “Gremio,” the “Gresio” I’d been using always bugged me. Too much the slur on the Eye Tees, you know? So “Gremio” it is.

I had high hopes for deVere. I’d heard so much good about the man. He certainly knows his words, and he certainly knows (ha ha) his Queen. I did like much of what he had to offer but eventually concluded he had, like, too much to offer. When he told us about the bloke he borrowed the 500 Cs from I seized ‘pon it at once and made him Kate’s da. Then we all had a good beery laugh like old chums about Bertie and deV’s sister and I managed to put some of that in, too, and the stuff about Italy, well, a little local spice never hurts and Christ knows I cannot supply any of that meself. But then deV got greedy. Started on that piggish swill about “A Shakespeare/deVere Production” and he wasn’t jokin’ neither. Who’s the think he is? Pox him, I say. Pox him soundly.

Greville, what can I say. Seems like a right enough chap. But as the saying goes, all the world’s a stage and if you can’t make an appearance till the curtain drops, you sir are no player. Or however it goes. By the time he showed up I’d already tidied me pages. I might show him some o’me other stuff sometime, if he’s lucky hehe.

Which left Marlowe. Lucky for me he had already had one or two or perhaps three too many, or he would have recognized himself in, ha ha, Christopher Sly. That seemed to sail over everybody else’s noggin too, perhaps I should be making the point more sharply. Christopher Toolow, perhaps? Nay. Sly it is.

Anyway, Marlowe was Marlowe. When he slid me his copy of the draft, o’er which he had spewed his draught, I stopped attending to him.

Surprisingly to me, worst of all was my own dear dear Anne.

She had been at me for weeks, she had, and perhaps ’twas the last time I’ll let her peek at my stuff ahead of time: You’ve gotta make Kate do this. Make her do that. Kate would nary say any such thing. All that muck and I went along with it just to shut her up. But when she plunked herself down at the tavern, elbowing deV aside (granted, he’s an arse-licker and I was well rid of him) and trying to keep Marlowe from tossin’ peanuts ‘twixt her bazooms, and THEN in front o’me workshopmates starts saying this and that about men and womenfolk and how the one needs a little more of this and the other less of that… well I have to say I do love the woman dearly dearly after all but am starting to wonder if she really deserves to get my best bed when I am dead and in the ground, you know what I’m saying? Blest be the woman that spares these stories and that woman clearly is not Anne.

But I showed her, indeed I did. This morning before I mailed to the printer the final quarto or folio or whatever the Hades they call it these days, I crossed out that “rights of woman” oration at the end which dear dear Anne had insisted on. Hehe, came up with some good stuff. “My hand is readie, may it do him ease” indeed. Dear dear Anne will crap a pretty brick when she hears that tomorrow night. ‘Course it doesn’t make much sense considering all the rot that came before but at this point I just want to be shut of it. Let the critics sort it all out, I say.

More later!

[Hat tip to Moonrat, of Editorial Ass]

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Living for Books

Wall of books - Gianni Botsford Architects

I. Want. This. Wall. (Found here, at the Arch Daily site.)

The house, perhaps predictably, is the house of a writer. The Missus says — when she’s trying to pick me up from the doldrums — that she believes I can write almost anything. To which I say, “How do I find out what this writer writes? And how do I write the same stuff?”

Of course the name of the client is confidential, although we know the house is in Costa Rica. Probably turn out to be a Nobel laureate or something, and damn but there go my hopes.

Wonder if s/he has a BookRabbit.com account?

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The Others Next Door

The Orange and the GreenStewart Neville (who participates as “Conduit” in the blogalogue at various writerly sites) is an Irishman with a hard-boiled fictional voice and a voice of sweet reason — or at least reason, period — when not constrained by a “Once upon a time… The End” frame.

His post yesterday offers up a case in point.

Here in the USA — which at least used to be an open-minded melting pot (maybe not in these days of fences and quotas and such) — we of course celebrate, for good or ill, a handful of ethnicity-inspired holidays: St. Patrick’s Day, Columbus Day, Kwaanza, Bastille Day. But the Twelfth of July? Here’s Stuart:

One day in the Northern Irish calendar is more divisive than any other. A few words of explanation for my American friends: The 12th of July is a national holiday in Northern Ireland that commemorates the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over the Catholic forces of King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Yep, more than three hundred years have passed, and we still haven’t let it go.

The day is marked by parades throughout Northern Ireland, organised by Orange Lodges, featuring marching bands, much flag waving, and general bluster. When I was a little boy, the Twelfth was one of the highlights of the year, bettered only by Christmas and Easter. It’s hard to describe the feeling of a big bass drum being hammered to within an inch of destruction, the way it pounds your chest, along with the crackle of side drums, and the piercing melodies of dozens of not-quite-in-tune flutes. If you’re walking along, you can’t help but fall into step with the music.

What I don’t know about Irish history could fit in a stadium. (Think about it.) But there was something very familiar to me in this description of parades from Stuart’s childhood.

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Love and Laughter

Yesterday I went into a soapbox-lecture rant, shall we say? (yes, let’s — rants seem to be another thing that’s done a lot), about some of the comments to a recent post on Nathan Bransford’s blog.

At the end of every week, Bransford posts a “This Week in Publishing” entry summing up recent industry news and often alluding to the conversation on his own blog. Yesterday’s “This Week,” naturally, referred to the hypothetical questions he’d posed earlier — and to the answers, answers, answers, answers it elicited. And one of the mini-conversations resulting from the “This Week” post caught my eye.

It took place between someone identifying herself as Thomma Lynn, and someone with the moniker “a paperback writer” (evocative, for those of us Of A Certain Age). In the midst of a lot of hard-eyed appraisals of the harsh realities of art, the harsher realities of business, the naivete of writing newcomers, and the thick skins of writing veterans, Thomma Lynn and a paperback writer suddenly found themselves talking about — of all things — love:

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The Business of Publishing Is…

From '...Loveley Money!' - c. 2008 by Richard Stiles (stilesr1 at sxc.hu)…surprise — it’s business!

In a blog post the other day, literary agent Nathan Bransford unleashed a torrent by asking nascent and/or, umm, under-published writers two questions:

Question #1: Let’s say there was a seer who could tell you definitively whether or not you have the talent to be a published writer. Absolute 100% accuracy. But. If the seer person said no, that’s that. Final answer. Would you want to know?

Question #2: If the seer person said no, you don’t have the talent to be a published writer, would you still write?

Now, granted, there are some traps there for the unwary reader. What does “published” mean — does self-publishing count? What’s “talent”?

But there were also a couple traps there for the blogging agent himself. First, of course, maybe 50-60% of commenters began by implicitly re-writing the first question to suit themselves, a la “Nothing is ever 100% certain. Therefore I’m going to assume that the seer may be wrong — certainly in my case!”

(I wanted to say, C’mon, people, make a choice. One shudders to imagine this sort of “decision-making” when facing truly black-and-white life choices — as sometimes, however painfully, life choices are. Re-imagine Sophie’s Choice, say: Sure — take them both! Sheesh.)

The post drew almost 200 comments. But that wasn’t the other trap awaiting Bransford. The other trap was in summing up his responses to all the comments.

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